One of the most forefront names in Americana, Todd Snider returned to the Wilma earlier this month for his First Agnostic Church of Hope and Wonder tour after almost a year-and-a-half break due to the Covid pandemic.
Named after his weekly Sunday live-streamed performances, First Agnostic Church of Hope and Wonder deviates from Snider’s typical folk sound. Instead, it experiments with funk-influenced stylings along with fellow musicians Robbie Crowell and Tchad Blake to create a fusion between the two genres.
“I just wanted to try to play all the instruments myself,” he told the Missoula Current. “It’s just this weird record that I have always had in my head that I wanted to get out of my system someday and it just seemed like the time presented itself.”
Snider recalled that the last time he dipped into an experimental phase was with Eastside Bulldog released in 2016 under a pseudonym, Elmo Buzz, a character developed by Snider who despised folk and echoed Little Richard style rock and roll.
The return to the stage has been eagerly anticipated both by Snider and his fan base, providing a deeply comedic yet intimate set that highlighted songs spanning his career, from his most notable hit “Beer Run” to his newest released material off First Agnostic Church of Hope and Wonder.
The transition from live stream to live on stage has been one that Snider has embraced.
“I like being able to hear the cheering, they can yell at me now though. But this is better, I prefer to be in a different town every day,” he said.
The album contains multiple musical eulogies to Snider’s fellow musicians and friends who have died since 2019, including John Prine and Jeff Austin.
Snider’s performance of “Handsome John,” the fifth song on the album, was most notable during the show and provided a raw look at Snider’s relationship with Prine, which stretched over many years of both touring with the late country-folk singer-songwriter as well as recording under Prine’s Oh Boy Record label.
“I think [Prine] saw a lot more [in me] than just thinking I was good, he just knew that I was determined and a troubadour, and wasn’t just looking to be a pop star. He knew that I wanted to be a folk singer, and that was something that he just wanted to help me do,” said Snider.
On stage, Snider recalled his relationship with Prine, telling stories that reflected the light-hearted and humble nature of the singer and closing the set with a cover of Prine’s “Fish and Whistle.”
Despite his comedic, sometimes political storytelling in songs, Snider does not see himself as a social critic.
“It’s just to tell a story. I don’t have an agenda or anything I hope people take away from it. Sometimes I do get my opinions in there, but it’s not because they are smart. It’s just because they rhyme. It’s mostly about opening your heart and showing everyone what’s in there and hope everyone cheers. If they boo, well, at least you opened your heart.”
Being vulnerable on stage is one thing Snider has had to learn to manage after many years of touring.
“Sometimes a lot of the songs are about people that are gone or a marriage that is gone, so there is a lot of ghosts when you’re doing the songs because they are all about real people. So that’s the only slightly negative tradeoff is that every night you take a trip down memory lane a little bit.
“Sometimes it will bring up my marriage, or my divorce, or something from my childhood. In the end, I think it’s good for you. That is the only real thing you got to watch out for is not getting depressed because your reliving sadness, you know?”